The Chatter Podcast: Why We Fight with Christopher Blattman

By David Priess
Thursday, May 5, 2022, 9:36 AM

Millions of hostile rivalries exist between groups worldwide, but their conflicts rarely escalate to protracted violence. Because would-be combatants know that all-out conflict usually proves immensely costly to all sides, they regularly find ways to avoid open warfare. And when it comes to international affairs in particular, we tend to focus on the wars that do occur at the expense of internalizing the core truth that, most of the time, they simply don't happen.

Political scientist and economist Christopher Blattman has a fresh take on these big issues of war and peace. He argues for sustained attention not only to the mechanisms by which conflict wins out over compromise but also to the remedies that routinely shift incentives away from protracted violence and get rivals back to deal-making. His research has put him in the room with street gang leaders and African dictators, British football hooligans and drug kingpins--experiences that combine with his insights from political science, economics, and psychology in his new book, Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace.

I host this long and fascinating conversation with Blattman about his hands-on field work, his framework for understanding why groups do and do not choose violence, and what it all means for practical efforts at conflict avoidance and resolution. Along the way, we find our way from the Godfather films to game theory to the U.S. wars with Iraq--and, most of all, we relate much of it to the current war between Russia and Ukraine.

Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad. See for privacy and opt-out information.

Works discussed in this episode:

The book Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace, by Christopher Blattman

The Godfather movie

The Godfather II movie

The book The Insane Chicago Way: The Daring Plan by Chicago Gangs to Create a Spanish Mafia, by John Hagedorn

Breaking Bad TV series

The book Beyond Plunder: Toward Democratic Governance in Liberia, by Amos Sawyer